Traveling wasn’t as easy as I remembered, my journey north was taking more time than I expected. I had left the Shadowlands as soon as I could, after helping Jose with his project and asking him to help me with mine. I was hoping to put some distance between that place and I, so Kimball wouldn’t be able to reach me when he went looking for me. The plan wasn’t working because my body wasn’t cooperating. The first day I had to stop just a few hours after starting because I was too tired, the second day I had to stop twice before noon, I ate during the second stop and fell asleep in the vehicle before I could continue my travel. So far I was a whole day behind schedule, that was a risk, the Amazons’ territory was far away, and it would take me weeks to reach it, especially at the rate I was going. I was starting to get worried that I wouldn’t be able to reach my destination.
As I was traveling through the Naturalists’ territory I got a weird feeling. I knew something was going to happen, and I wasn’t sure if it would be a good or bad thing. When I found the road blocked a couple of hours later I knew immediately that something was off, it wasn’t going to be easy to get around it. I extended my senses and realized that I was surrounded by warriors, but only two of them were moving closer to me. There was something familiar about the people approaching, when I was finally able to see them, I realized why, they were Flora, leader of the Naturalists, and her father Izbran, the former leader. I wasn’t sure what they wanted or what their intentions were, but friends or foes, it was better to face them, so I got out of the vehicle and went to meet them.
“Greetings Kaiserin.” Flora was the first to approach me. “Welcome to my territory.”
“Thanks. I’m just going through.” I noticed that Flora’s eyes moved to my little baby bump.
“We would be honored if you accept our hospitality, at least for tonight. I don’t know how long you have been on the road, and I mean no offense, but you look as if you need some rest.”
“I would be honored to accept your offer, but let me tell you that I have no intention of abusing your hospitality, I will stay tonight, and continue my travel tomorrow.” I couldn’t deny that I was tired, and the idea of not having to worry about setting camp and procuring food was tempting. With the Naturalists I would have a soft bed and a big feast. I felt no negative feelings from them, no bad vibe, and I knew that Izbran still felt as if he owed me for his Clan’s good fortune. I trusted them not to try something against me.
“As you wish Kaiserin,” Izbran said, “it will be our honor to have you, and to have the opportunity to talk. Maybe you could tell us what have you been doing these last years.”
“I’m sure you want to know, but I have to warn you, I won’t be talking about it, I have no desire to discuss where I have been or what I have done.”
“That’s ok,” Flora said. “Do you want to ride with us? Or do you prefer to drive your own vehicle? If you want I can have one of my men come here and take care of your car.”
“I know they can, I know you have a few of your men around us. I prefer to drive myself, not that I don’t trust your men, but I would like to take care of my own vehicle.”
“That’s ok, I understand.”
I followed them for an hour until we reached their main base. If I had been alone, I would have never found my way there, the road was opening before us, and closing again behind, using her powers Flora was moving plants and even trees in our way. I was surprised they were willing to show me that path, it was one of their personal routes, not one they showed other Clans. Most people only knew one way to their base, one route that was heavily guarded and full with traps.
We finally arrived and I left my vehicle and followed Flora and Izbran to the inside of their Palace.
“Do you want to go freshen up? Maybe have some rest? Or do you prefer to eat something? We will have a feast tonight, but I don’t know how hungry you are.” Flora said.
“I would like to rest for a while if that’s ok.”
“Of course, follow me. We have a room ready for you.”
“You knew I was coming here?”
“My reports said it was you coming here, I was hoping you would accept to come here. I’m glad you came, especially after seeing you,” she said, “I suspect you will be giving birth soon, it’s not the best time to be traveling, I’m sure you will appreciate some rest.”
“I have a long way to go before giving birth, I’m just five months along, but you are right, I could use some rest, I get tired easier now.”
“I have so many questions, so much I would like to know, I hope that once you rest you will be more willing to share, at least some of your story.”
“I’m sorry Flora, that’s unlikely.”
“I will send someone for you later.”
Once I was alone, I started wondering if I had made a mistake by accepting going with the Naturalists, but it was too late to change my mind, and I was tired, I needed a place where I could rest, maybe even for a few days. My body wasn’t cooperating, and I needed to be in a safe place, it would be no good for me to meet Kimball while being weak. If he had managed to heal from the injuries I had caused, then he would be ready to fight me, and I wasn’t sure I was ready. The Naturalists could protect me from him, as long as they didn’t tell my brother that I was there, then I would be safe.
I lay down for a while, and fell asleep. I woke up a few hours later when a couple of slaves went into my room with a change of clothes to help me prepare for the feast. Once I was ready I was guided to the place where the celebration was taking place. I thought the party was excessive and unnecessary, but I had learned that such parties were more for the hosts than the guests, and it was useless trying to tell them it was unnecessary when they were only looking for an excuse to throw a party.
During the meal the chat was superficial and no one tried to ask me any questions about my whereabouts the last years. I knew the truce wouldn’t last for long, sooner or later the questions would start. I focused on enjoying the food and the company until my body started to ask for a rest. I was finally able to say goodbye and leave to my room.
Once in my room and decided to do some astral reconnaissance, I needed to know what was going on around me. I wanted to go to the border of the territory and see if Kimball was following me, but at the same time I didn’t want to go far from my body in case someone decided to attack my body. I used my time in the astral planes to make sure they weren’t trying to betray me, but I didn’t find anything that showed they had ill intentions towards me.
Sooner than I wanted it was morning and I had to get up. Before I had the opportunity to get out of the room a group of guards went for me and asked if I wanted to go have breakfast with the Royal Family. I knew that it wasn’t early, and I guessed the Naturalists had been awake for a while.
”Good morning, I hope you slept well.” Izbran greeted me when I entered the dining room.
“Yes, thanks, it was good to have a good night’s rest.” I had spent all night going over my options, I was tempted to stay with them and let them protect me from Kimball and other enemies, especially after the way they had received me, but I was worried about trusting them just for them to take me to my brother.
“It’s been an honor to have you here, and I know you said you had to leave today, but I would really like for you to reconsider and stay a little bit longer. We can give you a safe place to stay for as long as you want,” Flora offered.
“It’s a good offer, but I have a long way to go. Besides, I don’t want my brother to find out I’m here, and I don’t want to cause you any problems.”
“Is there something we can do to get you to change your mind?” The young man sitting across from me asked, as he filled my glass with juice. “We would really like to have you here longer.”
I took the glass and was overcome by a feeling of déjà vu, my hand stopped moving when the glass was almost on my lips, something was wrong. I looked up and saw the young man smiling, that smile reminded me of a vision, one that I had just before Kimball took my powers away.
I put the glass back on the table without drinking, and I noticed that the smile was no longer natural, it looked forced. Our eyes made contact and I slipped inside his mind. His body was frozen in the spot and his eyes lost focus, but I remained the same as my second mind was looking for answers. It took the Naturalists a while to notice something odd.
“Kudzu?” Flora asked when she noticed the state of the man.
“Don’t worry, he will be fine.” I told my hostess.
“What are you doing? Is this how you pay our hospitality?” Izbran was mad.
“Apparently your hospitality will be payed by my brother, once he comes and collects me,” I said, taking the glass again and smelling the content, but there was no nothing to clue me in what it was. “What did you give me? A sleeping draught? A paralyzing? How were you going to get me to stay until Trajan arrives?”
“It’s not what you think Kaiserin,” Flora said in a calming tone. “We are trying to help you.”
“This,” I said as I spilled the liquid on the table, “it’s not helping. This is an attack. I knew what would happen if I went back to the Imperial Clan, I knew that even those I trusted would betray me, but I thought you would be different, I thought I would be safe here for at least a few days. Should I be grateful that it took you more than a day to stab me in the back?”
“Just calm down, all your family wants is to talk to you, neither we, nor them wants to hurt you.”
“But you tried to drug me. Do you think I will just ignore that?” I stood up, but I moved too fast and I felt dizzy, for a moment I thought that maybe they had succeeded in drugging me, but then I realized that it was my body betraying me. “I don’t want any problems with you, I will go to my vehicle and get out of your territory. If you know what it’s good for you, you won’t try to stop me.”
“I don’t think you can be on your own right now,” Izbran pointed out, “it would be better if you stay and talk to your brother, you would realize that none of us wants to harm you.”
“You know nothing, but I do, I know what will happen if I stay here. No, I have to go.” I tried to walk out of the room, but a couple of soldiers were blocking the exit.
“There is no need to make this more difficult that it has to be. We really don’t want to hurt you, but you need to realize that you can’t fight a whole Clan.”
“You shouldn’t underestimate me.” Using my powers I caused all the things on the table to break, then the chairs, causing some of them to fall to the floor. “I can stop you, I can even destroy all of you, it may cost me my life, but that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make to avoid being captured again.” Using my mind I threw the soldiers blocking my path to the other side of the room and walked away. I stopped at the door and turned to them. “Don’t try to follow me, I will kill anyone who tries to stop me.”
I was pleasantly surprised to find my stuff in the vehicle, I was glad I didn’t have to run away without supplies. I got away as soon as I could, and was glad that no one tried to stop me, despite being surrounded by Naturalists most of the way. I knew they had many ways of following me, but I couldn’t worry about it, not yet. Trajan was coming after me, and once he discovered that I was pregnant and alone, he would try to do the right thing and take me back to the Palace, but I knew that if he did that, I wouldn’t come out of there again, and worse, my son wouldn’t live. I had to get away, no matter what.